‘Joyful warrior’ former U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell dies at 64

By: - August 16, 2021 2:16 pm

Rep. Paul Mitchell at the 2019 Mackinac Policy Conference | Detroit Chamber photo

Former U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell (I-Dryden Twp.), who left the Republican Party over leadership indulging former President Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election, died at age 64 on Monday after being diagnosed with stage IV renal cancer earlier this year. 

He spent 40 days in the hospital in June following a removal of a mass and blood clot near his heart. Mitchell’s last hospital stay was in July.

Mitchell told WJR-AM in June that it was “pretty shocking to get that kind of diagnosis,” and maintained that he would not go down without a fight. 

“They give me a 50/50 chance of getting into remission,” Mitchell said. “But, either way, I’m going to go down swinging.”

In a statement following his death, his wife, Sherry, mourned the loss of her husband and said the two-term congressman “loved with reckless abandon and would fiercely protect others whether they were family or strangers.” 

“I am immensely proud of him and never more so than when he was the lone voice in a sea of politicians who cared more about power than the true definition of the office,” Sherry said. “Paul stood up for what matters most, it had nothing to do with political ideology and everything to do with keeping our humanity. For everyone.” 

Mitchell also leaves behind six children and six grandchildren. His family has asked that their privacy be respected and announced there would be no public funeral. 

He was the oldest of seven children and originally born in South Boston before moving to Michigan, where he grew up in Oakland County’s Waterford Township. 

Before assuming public office, he was CEO of Ross Education, a workforce development organization. His estimated net worth was $37.7 million in 2019, Roll Call reported.

Reps. Paul Mitchell, Elissa Slotkin and Fred Upton visit the southern border, 2019 | Rep. Upton photo

Mitchell began his career in public service on the St. Clair City Council and chaired the Faith and Freedom Coalition of Michigan before unsuccessfully running for the GOP nomination for the 4th Congressional District in 2014. He lost to now-U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar (R-Midland) who wrote on Twitter that they “competed against one another, but we also quickly became friends, and I will always be grateful for his friendship & service to our nation.”

“Paul always stood up for his beliefs, especially as the leader of the School Choice Caucus, and he worked hard to do what was right for Michigan families,” Moolenaar added.

Mitchell went on to win the race to replace then-U.S. Rep. Candice Miller (R-Harrison Twp.) in the 10th District in 2016. Mitchell represented the 10th District that included part of Macomb County and the Thumb area until 2021 and voted in line with Trump 94.4% of the time throughout Mitchell’s tenure.

He announced in 2019 he would not run for reelection, citing personal reasons and a general disillusionment with the current political climate.

“A career in Washington has never been my objective,” Mitchell said in July 2019. “My objective has always been simply to work to address significant challenges this nation faces: health care, immigration and infrastructure, for example. However, it appears to me that rhetoric overwhelms policy, and politics consumes much of the oxygen in this city.”

Mitchell was succeeded by U.S. Rep. Lisa McClain (R-Bruce Twp.), who said her “thoughts and prayers are with Paul’s wife Sherry and the entire Mitchell family.”

Despite being a member of House Republican leadership, Mitchell became an independent at the end of his tenure in 2020 after Republican leadership refused to condemn Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 general election that he lost to now-President Joe Biden. 

“If Republican leaders collectively sit back and tolerate unfounded conspiracy theories and ‘stop the steal’ rallies without speaking out for our electoral process, which the Department of Homeland Security said was ‘the most secure in American history,’ our nation will be damaged,” Mitchell wrote in a December 2020 letter to Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel, and U.S. House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

Mitchell joined a group of 150 independents, current and former Republicans in May to establish A Call For American Renewal, a group rejecting radical components of the Republican Party. 

Following his passing, a flood of messages from colleagues across the aisle who served with the two-term congressman poured in to mourn his death. 

U.S. Rep Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly) recognized Mitchell as one of her first friends in Congress and mourned his loss on Twitter Monday. Slotkin also organized members of the Michigan delegation and the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus to dedicate a special hour on the House floor to pay tribute to Mitchell. 

“My heart is heavy with the passing of Paul Mitchell, who we lost way too soon and way too fast,” Slotkin said. “Paul was one of my first friends in Congress and was an incredibly decent and compassionate person.”

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn), also praised her colleague for always standing up for what he believed in and for always keeping a smile on his face while doing so. 

“Rep. Paul Mitchell was a class act and stood up for what he believed in. He was a close friend and colleague of mine, always willing to listen, even when we disagreed. Until the very end, Paul kept a smile on his face and humor in his words, just like [her late husband, former U.S. Rep.] John Dingell.”

U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Grand Rapids) also criticized Trump following the Jan. 6 insurrection in the U.S. Capitol and was one of 10 House Republicans to vote to impeach the former president for inciting the riot. Meijer said he was “deeply saddened” to learn of Mitchell’s death.

“Paul was a steadfast leader who demonstrated an unwavering commitment to the principles he believed in. I will never forget his friendship or his mentorship,” Meijer added.

Michigan House Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Clare) lauded Mitchell’s career in public service, saying Mitchell was “a great representative who passionately fought for the people he served.”

“He earned his reputation for caring deeply about the issues and about his community, and his passing will be felt [by] every person and every cause he leaves behind,” Wentworth said. “I am glad I was fortunate to know him and see his energy up close.” 

Paul was a steadfast leader who demonstrated an unwavering commitment to the principles he believed in.

– U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer

Mitchell was a critic of Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer over her COVID-19 restrictions, but the governor remembered him Monday as “a joyful warrior for the people he believed in and for Michigan, the place that he loved.”

“Throughout his tenure in the United States Congress, he led with his values and always spoke out for what he felt was right, even when he had to go against his own party, the president, or conventional political wisdom,” Whitmer said. “After an incredibly successful career in the private sector, Paul entered public life, channeling his passion for people and innovative mind to help his neighbors and community succeed. He embodied values that we all aspire to have—he was independent, witty, and principled.”

Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel, said that despite her and Mitchell’s political differences, he “will be remembered for standing up for our democracy.”

“Paul refused to throw away his integrity to earn political points, and while we may have disagreed on many issues, I will always respect and admire him for his commitment to doing what was right until the very end,” Nessel said. 

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Julia Forrest
Julia Forrest

Julia Forrest is a contributor to the Michigan Advance. She has been covering Michigan and national politics for two years at the Michigan Daily and OpenSecrets. She studies public policy at the University of Michigan.

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